The Hidden Beauty Standard for Asian Men
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Last summer, when I visited Korea, I saw shiny skyscrapers and food advertisements posted almost everywhere. I also noticed the surprisingly tall and attractive people walking the streets. It was odd to me that all these people looked seemingly identical in height. Almost all of the young men were six feet or taller, while the women looked just over five feet. Compared to other races in America, Asians are generally shorter, so I was shocked to see a generation of tall youth almost everywhere I went. I didn’t really give this observation much thought until about a week ago, when my aunt told me about the extreme lengths Korean men take to grow taller. These measures even include growth hormone shots as early as middle school.
Throughout history and to this day, women have been and are judged by toxic beauty standards. Especially in Korea, unrealistic expectations of fair skin and a slim physique permeate the beauty and music industries. While the issue of beauty standards for women still pervades, the toxic standard for Asian men is not talked about nearly enough and should be acknowledged as well. As an Asian American teenage boy, I’ve personally experienced the harm of these standards.
Every one of us cares, to some extent, about our appearance. Changes in appearance, whether through plastic surgery, makeup, growth hormones, or clothing, can be harmful to people’s sense of self if taken too far. While they can be a way to express oneself, some people feel pressured into going through those changes when they don’t truly want to. Everyone has unique characteristics, but recently, oppressive standards have put forth a conformative incentive in beauty, especially for Asian men.
Companies encourage people to change their appearances because of financial motives, not because these corporations truly care about how people look. In a report from Dong-A ST, the market size of growth hormones in Korea is currently around $71 million, and the increase in market size from 2017 to 2018 was $9.8 million, showing the extreme size of the market and its current growth. In addition to the large market, the price of the growth hormone treatment and add-ons, such as massage sessions, can be up to $21 thousand every six months, making it a difficult path for many families to take. Outside of Korea, the men’s beauty market is expected to generate $166 billion by 2022. While there’s no issue with using makeup, it’s a sign that beauty standards have also affected how men view themselves and transform themselves to fit in.
The rise of social media and Asian culture in America is also a factor in this growing obsession with being six feet tall and dressing “fashionably.” America has its own issues with Asian beauty standards. Even when Asian culture is presented, often through K-pop boybands and Asian TV stars, the people who are shown set forth a warped representation of near flawlessness. In recent years, the popularity of K-pop has skyrocketed alongside K-dramas, with an increase of 200 percent in viewership from 2019 to 2021 in the U.S. Because of this media, there’s a certain standard for Asian men: six feet tall, clear skin, and fit: overall, a model man.
Growing up, I didn’t care too much about my appearance, since my parents never pressured me in that way. As I’ve matured, I’ve started to notice that I’m giving more thought to my appearance, especially if I’m seeing people I’m uncomfortable with. To this day, I receive constant comments on my appearance, whether it’s complimenting my height or criticizing how I’m too skinny or how my style isn’t right. It’s hard to express my frustration with these comments since they have become a norm built up over time. When I look at myself in the mirror, there’s always something I find an issue with, whether it’s my skin, hair, or teeth. The standard is not as obvious in the media as it is with women, but it’s still present through TikToks about the perfect Asian man and guides on how to look like certain actors. This generation is idealizing people, especially Asian men on social media who they deem “perfect,” and judging others based on that twisted model. We need to realize that this behavior stems from cultural appropriation and relies on white authority on Asian identity. No one is perfect, and the thing that makes us beautiful is our uniqueness, whether that is in appearance or personality.